EASTER just wouldn’t be Easter without hot cross buns.
The Elizabethans believed they were so special they implemented a law that they could only be eaten on Good Friday, at Christmas and at funerals.
Legend has it hot cross buns can ward off evil spirits, cement friendships and protect kitchens from fires.
That’s a lot of power for one little sweet bread delicacy, but hot cross buns are still the Easter food staple for many.
And what Stuart Fay, head chef at the Bell Inn in the village of Horndon-on-the-Hill, Thurrock doesn’t know about hot cross buns isn’t worth knowing.
Stuart, 40, is keeping the historic pub’s 110 year old hot cross bun tradition alive, which means he’s been baking up batches of them since yesterday.
Every Good Friday since 1906, the 15th century pub been hanging up hot cross buns from the ceiling in the bar to celebrate their own very quaint Easter tradition.
The custom is thought to have begun in 1906 when the landlord of the pub at the time baked hot cross buns to entice more customers through the doors.
When he found he had some spare, one was hung on the bar to commemorate the day and the tradition has been carried on ever since.
It could also have something to do with the fact ancient folklore says that hot cross buns hung up, particularly in the kitchen, are supposed to protect from evil spirits and to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out.
Likewise, taking hot cross buns on a voyage at sea endows the boat with some protection from shipwreck.
The fact the habit has stuck around means it’s now something customers and staff look forward to every Good Friday when hundreds of free hot cross buns are dished out, while one of course is held back to be hung up to join the extensive bun collection.
This means Stuart and his team have a busy time in the kitchen whisking up batches of buns.
“We are expecting to make around 400 this year,” said Stuart, who has been at the pub 12 years and is also an accomplished pastry chef.
“We start on Wednesday and don’t stop until Friday when we hand them out at 1pm. Of course that’s in between preparing lunches and dinners for our customers, so it’s all go."
So what’s Stuart’s trick to creating the perfect hot cross bun?
“The trick is to marinate your fruit as early as possible,” he said, “We soak our fruit in orange juice. The spices you use are important too. Here we like to add in spices like cinnamon. My advice is to take your time and don’t rush it – and use a good glaze at the end.”
Stuart, who every month visits local children at Horndon-on-the-Hill Primary school to teach them cooking skills, says Easter is all about enjoyment when it comes to food.
Earlier this week he shared his hot cross bun making skills with the pupils but recently has also taught them how to make everything from chocolate brioche to Anglo Saxon bread.
“Easter is definitely a time when you can got to town with food, our customers always love our lamb dishes which are so popular at this time of year, as are our venison recipes,” he said.
Doesn’t Stuart get bored with making so many buns? Come Easter Sunday he must surely have had enough?
He says: “No I love it, I make them at home too if I get the time.”